By Mike Gaisser and Irini Orihuela
The Center for Science Teaching and Learning (CSTL) in Rockville Center hosted a camp session for kids, to get or keep kids aged five to 12 interested in STEM, as schools across Long Island took their mid-February break.
At the camp, visitors conducted hands-on experiments, observing animals, and discovering nature through hikes around the center.
“I told him there was a science camp and he wanted to go,” Eza Urssiero, a mom whose son attended the camp, said. “He loves coming here.”
Parents should introduce their children to science early in their lives, director of CSTL, Doctor Ray Ann Havasy, suggests. Havasy conducts a lecture series across the country discussing the disconnect between schools teaching science versus how science is in the real world.
“Kids are not encouraged to pick science as a career,” Havasy said. “We say you don’t like science, become a financier.” According to a 2019 Junior Achievement USA survey, only 9 percent of girls, ages 13 to 17 are interested in STEM careers. Which is down from 11 percent in 2018. Teen boys’ interest in STEM careers increased slightly to 27 percent, up from 24 percent in 2018.
New York state should mandate basic STEM into curriculums for earlier grades, Daniel Formichelli, a high school science teacher, said.
“When I taught in a disadvantaged school, students had more interest in art electives,” Formichelli said. “The current school I teach at has a privileged student body. Their parents force STEM [onto] them at a young age.”
Parents hear about the camp through word of mouth, or through pamphlets handed out at their children’s schools. Parents also come to visit the center for other reasons and if their child likes it, they sign them up for a camp session.
“We have mostly rescue animals, [including] snakes, lizards, goats, owls, emus, alligators,” Christopher Lake II, who started volunteering at CSTL at age 12, said. “We have a license to take [them] and use them for educational purposes and make sure they’re safe.”
Beaming with excitement while waiting for camp to start, Ymanual Oropza, five, talked about how he and his father compete to see who has the best roar. His favorite dinosaur is the Tyrannosaurus rex.
“This is his first time coming,” Linda Oropza, Ymanual’s mother, said. “We did come to the museum during the fall, and he enjoyed it. The advertisement showed up on my social media, and we investigated [the camp] for this week since he is off [from school].”
During last week’s camp, the CSTL hosted a nature walk on the Tanglewood Preserve grounds in the morning. Kevin Sanders, a teacher at the center, led the kids through the trail, answering questions and educating them on the different plants, animals and bugs.
He explained how fungus acts as decomposers, feeding on dead animals and plants to convert waste back into nutrients for plants. He demonstrated with a leaf, crumbling it as he explained how decomposition works.
“We try to make science fun,” Sanders said. “It’s not that they just show up, and they get a lecture, and they take notes. We give them the activity, they have to build it, and learn it, figure it out for themselves essentially.”
After the nature walk, Sanders brought the children back to conduct a science experiment in the classroom. The children used the electric charge from batteries to break apart water molecules, creating oxygen and hydrogen gas. They mixed distilled water with different fluids, like lemon juice and dish detergent, to see which one carried the most electric charge.
“We’ve been coming for two years every time school’s out,” Devi Harrydath, mother of a nine year old daughter, said. “It’s nice to get her out and have her enjoy what she likes.” Harrydath adds that her daughter likes their science experiments and nature walks.
“Obviously, we would love for them to be able to go home and repeat all this stuff, but it’s also more about the curiosity,” Sanders said. “They’re kids [and] they wanna touch, they wanna be as engaged as possible.” There’s nothing quite like seeing things in nature, as opposed to reading about it in a textbook, he said.